1. Stopped buying paper plates, solo cups, or plastic utensils.
In my kitchen the following conversation can be heard at least once every party:
"Ginger, where do you keep the paper plates?"
"Don't have any. Use a real one!"
I made this decision deliberately because water is renewable, but most of the paper in landfills isn't breaking down due to an absence of necessary oxygen within the layers of trash. We have a dishwasher and microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe dishes and glasses, which makes this choice a lot easier for us than it would be for other people without such conveniences. There is slightly more work involved, but I consider that work to be minimal. We try to make sure that the dishwasher is empty before guests arrive so that dishes can go directly in the washer. We use our standard dishes outside for barbecues, and now all of our gatherings, from the most humble movie night to the most glamorous cocktail party, are just a bit more sparkly. I've noticed that just this little extra touch seems to make people feel like the event was even more memorable.
2. Rarely use paper towels.
All I ever use paper towels for anymore is to drain fried food. I do all my cleaning with real fabric towels and rags that can be thrown directly in the clothes washer. I figure that if soap and hot water are good enough for dealing with raw meat germs on my hands and utensils, it's good enough for my towels.
3. Switched to canvas shopping bags.
This is a new change, but one I'd been wanting to do for at least two years since birdofparadox and glover made their own. We bought these and these because they are (mostly) logo-free and I feel comfortable taking them into any store. It's great. The bags hold so much more than plastic bags and are easier to carry. The only draw back is the occasional grumbling by other customers behind us in line when the bagging clerks take a bit longer to load everything up. I also have to remember to return the bags to my car after unloading, but we've started to get into a regular routine of leaving them by the door so we can grab them on the way out next. Soon it'll be second-nature.
4. Switched (somewhat) to rechargeable AA and AAA batteries.
This switch hasn't been entirely successful. Our current batch of rechargeable batteries don't hold their charges for very long, but we're in the process of buying better quality models that have nearly a 40% greater charge retention. There are only two places that I refuse to use rechargeable batteries, a. smoke detectors, and b. my vibrators. My body can tell a significant difference between rechargeable batteries and regular ones, but my television remotes can't. In fact, my little lipstick clit vibe is the most accurate test for how much charge a battery has left in it. So when I've sucked most of the juice out of our standard, non-rechargeable batteries, I move them to the living room for use in our remote controls. There's your dose of TMI for the day. :) Anything else in the house (computer mice, wireless keyboards, flashlights, non-intimate toys) are filled with rechargeable batteries.
5.Installed a tankless water heater.
This decision was sped up by the untimely death of our old water heater. We dealt with diminishing hot water and shorter and shorter showers over the course of eight months until we were down to 1-2 minute showers. So we spent the extra money and had our plumber put in a gas-powered Rheem tankless water heater. If you're getting a tankless heater, gas is really your only option; electric tankless models simply can't heat the water quickly enough and are terrible. Since the installation, our power bill is noticeably less than baseline, but we've found that our water bill is higher. Because the Rheem heats water on the fly when you turn on the faucet, it takes a little longer for the hot water to reach you and thus we have to run the water slightly longer each time we need hot water, whether it's for a long shower for a 5-second dish rinse.
6. Started recycling cans.
This may sound like an obvious change, but it's really really difficult to recycle when you live in a small town. There is no curb-side pick-up except for a few neighborhoods in Oxford and the recycling center is only open for six hours a day. We tried recycling several times with little success in habit-change. Now that we live 30 miles away in Water Valley, recycling is practically impossible.
However, there is an hunched, ancient man who lives around the corner who collects aluminum cans, recycles them, and donates the money to a mission fund at his church. He keeps a big wooden trough in his front yard for people to drop their cans into. In my world-view, missions can be both helpful and destructive to the cultures they wish to convert, so I honestly don't care to support their missions. But since I do support recycling, I figure we can both find something positive in this arrangement. Therefore, we've started giving our cans to this old fellow.
8. Stopped keeping the air conditioning set to 65 degrees.
Jimmy is a polar bear. This has been a very difficult change. Since we put the efficient central heating and air system in the house last June, we've been slowly training ourselves to keep the a/c closer to 70 or 72 degrees and to reach for the fan before the thermostat. It helps too that we've bought Jimmy some new shorts, so that he has something cooler to wear than his default house pants. Also, my guilt about keeping the temperature still lower than most people is somewhat alleviated by the fact that our region uses hydroelectric power from Tenn-Tom.
Older Changes Made in the Last Five Years
9. We don't use single-serving plastic water bottles or keep them in the house.
In fact, our water in Water Valley, MS, is so tasty that we don't even filter the water from the tap (but we could if we wished). We just use carry-sized, dishwasher safe, insulated jugs. I prefer these anyhow since the ice in the jug keeps my water chilly for nearly six hours. The only time we use disposable bottles is if we've stopped at a gas station on long road trips.
10. Switched (almost exclusively) to compact fluorescent bulbs.
We made this switch over five years ago, but with all of the renovations that we have made to the house, I've noticed recently that there are a great many more bulb options than there were just one year ago. I refuse to buy new fans or light fixtures that can't accommodate (both in socket size and overall bulb size) CFL bulbs. Recently I found candelabra (small socket, decorator-style) CFL bulbs which allows us to use them in some fixtures (dining room, some fans) that until now we'd had to use standard incandescent or halogen bulbs in. I've discovered and purchased a three-way CFL lamp bulb, but it seemed to only have one level of light in the lamps that I thought were three-way. So I've given the bulb to Liz to test.